In this presentation, we review the findings of a 2-year cross-cultural research program in which we interviewed over 800 young children (K-4) in four countries—the United States, China, Belgium, and …
In this presentation, we review the findings of a 2-year cross-cultural research program in which we interviewed over 800 young children (K-4) in four countries—the United States, China, Belgium, and Lebanon—about the meanings of science and engineering work and careers. Our project focused on how meanings of work in STEM are discursively created, and examined cross-cultural, gender, and class differences in career and work socialization. This research offers communicative perspectives about the challenges of gender representation and the gendered organizing and career processes in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) areas.
Some themes we will review regarding the discourses of these children include:
1. The discursive intersections of imagination and material realities;
2. The contradictory discourses regarding occupational status and stigma; and
3. The cultural influences of honor and duty to one’s family or country
We discuss these findings in terms of the theoretical contributions they make to career and occupational socialization theory. In examining the constructed nature of STEM work, and its meaningfulness to different developmental, gender and cultural groups, we highlight how meanings of work, context, and career socialization operate synergistically to shape children’s understandings of work. We also invite discussion of how the research findings can be translated into practical changes to early messages about work and careers, in order to “change the conversation” and shape new futures for young women in STEM careers.
We believe these findings provide unique insights into early developments in children’s anticipation of and socialization into STEM work and careers, and enable comparison of national, cultural, class, and developmental discourses. The findings have important implications for understanding the underrepresentation of women in STEM careers, and the class and cultural differences in young children’s conceptualizations of such work.